Accelerating digital transformation through design thinking and domain expertise

27 June 2024 — E&P - Ian Kennedy

Accelerating digital transformation through design thinking and domain expertise

This feature is the second in a series of articles on change management and design thinking from the E&P Consulting team. We will explore the benefits of a design thinking approach and the role of domain expertise to optimise results and accelerate digital transformation for digital oil and gas projects.

Change Management vs. Design Thinking

In the context of digital oil and gas projects, change management and design thinking are complementary approaches that address different aspects of project execution and success.

Change management is the overarching approach taken in an organisation to move from the current to a future desirable state using a coordinated and structured approach in collaboration with stakeholders.” - Association for Project Management

We’ve already explored how change management aims to prepare an organisation and its people for change by using a systematic approach that moves an organisation through each stage, from strategic alignment to match digital projects with the company's main goals to cultural transformation where creativity and collaboration are encouraged across teams to fully embed change.

With a focus on the human and organisational aspects of implementing modern technologies, processes, or systems, change management ensures that the people involved in and affected by the change are on board and that the transition is smooth.

In contrast to this, design thinking takes a different approach to project management.

Design thinking is different from other innovation and ideation processes in that it’s solution-based and user-centric rather than problem-based. This means it focuses on the solution to a problem instead of the problem itself.” – Harvard Business School

Taking a more solution-oriented approach, design thinking aims to understand the user's needs and experiences to develop innovative solutions. It prioritises creativity, user-centricity, and iterative development, seeking to understand user needs deeply and develop innovative solutions through a structured, but less systematic, process.

While design thinking and change management each provide a clear methodology to support the project management process, it must be remembered that they are distinct concepts with different objectives. However, this does not mean that an organisation must choose one or the other. When it comes to digital transformation in oil and gas projects, both approaches can be used together to facilitate effective change and innovation.

The greatest challenge is knowing when and how to apply each approach and how to do this successfully.

E&P’s integrated approach project management

Transitioning to a future, desired position requires an understanding of the critical digital skills needed, proactive management of behaviours, and creating effective teams that can work creatively and collaboratively across the business to optimise results.

As domain systems and data integrators (SDI), E&P Consulting works with oil and gas companies to improve workflows and insights by taking a unified view across data and applications.

This approach, supported by established and new processes and technology, ensures organisations have access to dependable information for smarter decisions and better results.

Design thinking management is particularly valuable in complex and dynamic fields such as digital oil and gas projects, where user needs, and technological possibilities continually evolve. In this context, design thinking can drive innovation and user adoption of modern technologies by ensuring that solutions are tailored to the specific needs and challenges of the industry.

Six Key Stages of the Design Thinking Cycle
Source: © E&P Consulting, 2024

Unlike change management, the design thinking approach is iterative and non-linear. Rather than progressing through each stage systematically, it moves through continuous cycles of prototyping and testing to establish the best-fit solutions.

Stage One: Empathy

The empathy stage is about gaining a deep understanding of the end-users and their environment. This involves observing, engaging, and empathising.
: Techniques such as interviews, shadowing, and user journey mapping are employed to gather qualitative data about users.
: Insights into user behaviours, pain points, and motivations that inform the problem statement and solution design.

Stage Two: Design

: The define stage involves synthesising the insights gathered during the empathy stage to articulate the problem. This stage transforms user observations into a clear problem statement.
: Tools such as affinity diagrams, user personas, and problem statements are used to organise and make sense of the data.
: A well-defined problem statement that provides a focused direction for ideation and solution development.

Stage Three: Ideate

: Ideation is about generating a range of potential solutions. This stage encourages creative thinking and challenges assumptions.
: Techniques such as idea-storming, mind mapping, and the use of "How Might We" questions to stimulate creative thinking.
: A set of potential solutions that address the problem.

Stage Four: Prototype

: Prototyping involves creating representations of selected ideas. Simple and low-fidelity (e.g., sketches, paper models) or more complex (e.g., digital mock-ups, functional models).
: Rapid prototyping, wireframing, and other hands-on approaches to build quick and iterative models.
: Digital prototypes that allow for exploration and testing of how solutions might work in practice.

Stage Five: Test

: The testing stage is about evaluating prototypes with actual users to gather feedback and assess the viability, usability, and desirability of the solutions.
: User testing sessions, A/B testing, usability testing, and feedback collection through surveys or interviews.
: User feedback and insights that highlight strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement in the prototypes.

Stage Six: Iterate

: Iteration involves refining solutions based on the feedback received during the testing stage. This stage is iterative; it may loop back to earlier stages (e.g., more ideation or prototyping).
: Continuous feedback loops, refinement of prototypes, and repeated testing to meet user needs effectively.
: A polished, user-centred solution ready for implementation that addresses the problem comprehensively.

At each stage, the role of people will be critical to optimising results and moving the organisation closer to achieving its digital goals within set timelines. However, we believe it is not just about people. It is about the right people.

Success in design thinking requires tailored solutions aligned with the specific needs and challenges of the industry, as well as the right people, the right skills, and relevant experience to drive the project forward.

Applying design thinking in digital oil and gas projects

Our Product Assurance service offers tailored roles to complement current teams or assemble a complete team from scratch. Whether specific expertise or an entire squad is needed, we are committed to ensuring that projects are effectively delivered with skilled digital experts combined with relevant domain experience to support the organisation at every stage of the project.

Industry - oil and gas
Redzal Amzah /

The following examples demonstrate how design thinking combined with digital domain expertise can drive innovation and user adoption of modern technologies in digital oil and gas projects effectively and at pace.

Example One: Enhancing Drilling Operations with Predictive Maintenance


  • Talk to drilling crews about their maintenance challenges.
  • Look at past maintenance records to spot common issues.


  • Problem: "Unexpected equipment failures cause downtime and safety risks."


  • Solutions: IoT sensors for equipment health, AI for failure predictions, and a mobile app for alerts.


  • Build a predictive maintenance system with these features.


  • Pilot it on a rig, gather feedback, and improve it.


  • Refine the AI, enhance the app, and expand to more equipment. Test and train crews.

Example Two: Streamlining Exploration Project Management


  • Hold workshops with project managers to understand their challenges.
  • Map out workflows and spot inefficiencies.


  • Problem: "Projects are inefficient due to poor communication and coordination."


  • Solutions: a central project management platform, real-time communication tools, automated task tracking.


  • Develop a basic project management platform.


  • Pilot it in a project, gather feedback, and improve it.


  • Add features like enhanced reporting, customisable dashboards, and tool integration. Test and train users.

These examples show how using design thinking with a focus on iteration can solve specific challenges in upstream oil and gas projects, making them more efficient and user-friendly.

With this combined approach, companies can ensure that technological solutions are not only innovative but also user-friendly, ultimately leading to higher adoption rates and better operational outcomes.

Design Thinking: Your Framework. Our People

As with change management, the importance of domain understanding in design thinking cannot be overstated. Optimising results requires a profound understanding of the business landscape and the relevant skills to hit the ground running and unlock the potential of digital technology.

By focusing on aligning people, processes, and technology, E&P Consulting’s integrated approach to design thinking ensures organisations realise value at every stage in the management and delivery of digital oil and gas projects.

What We Do: Domain – Systems and Data Integrators
The Three Critical Areas of Digital Domain Management. (Source: © E&P Consulting, 2024) 

We work with our clients to help them determine the product, approach, and team dynamics they need, and through E&P’s established Trusted Professional Network (TPN), we enable oil and gas companies to access a highly skilled talent pool that best fits a company’s product vision. 

The four core pillars of E&P’s Trusted Professional Network include:   

  • Active, rather than passive, engagement with resources 
  • International reach: onshore and offshore 
  • Pre-qualification and preselection 
  • Quick turn around 

E&P understands the needs, challenges, and complexities of the industry, and working in partnership with our clients, we combine design thinking with our extensive experience and skills to ensure that energy companies deliver their strategic digital transformation goals and can continue to thrive in a changing industry. 

If you would like to learn more about our design thinking approach and the consultancy, services, and skills we provide to identify and deliver solutions in integrated energy organisations, contact us today. 


Ian Kennedy - Head of Oil and Gas

As E&P's Head of Oil and Gas, Ian is responsible for developing and promoting E&P's consulting services, ensuring that value is realised from digital technologies within oil and gas organisations. Ian has over 25 years of experience working with major oil, gas, and service companies and leading systems integrators to optimise the use of information technology. His passion is applying the appropriate mix of people, processes, and technology to solve industry challenges.


Feature image: Fizkes /